Monday, November 30, 2009

ACCESS TO GOD

I sought the Lord in prayer and I asked him, “What is the most important aspect of your making us your temple?” Here’s what came to me: access with boldness and confidence.


Paul says of Christ, “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:12).


In the Jewish temple, there was very little access to God. In fact, such access was available only to the high priest, and then only once a year. When the time came, the priest entered God’s presence in the temple with fear and trembling. He knew he could be struck down for approaching the mercy seat with unforgiven sin in his heart.


Today God has emerged from that small, restricted room. And he has come directly to us in all our disgrace and corruption. He tells us, “I’ve come to live in you. You don’t have to hide your filth and despair from me. I’ve chosen you because I want you and I’m about to turn your body into my home, my dwelling place, my residence.


“I’ll send my Holy Spirit, who will sanctify you. He’s going to clean and sweep out every room, to prepare your heart as my bride, but that’s not all. I’m going to seat you right next to me and I’ll urge you to come boldly to my throne, with confidence. You see, I want you to ask me for power, grace, strength, everything you need. I’ve brought heaven down into your souls, so you can have access to it all. You’re rich, yet you don’t even realize it. You’re an heir to all my glory.”


The sole reason your body is holy is because the Holy Ghost lives there. And it’s kept holy only by his continual presence and power. You can’t do it. You’d become a nervous wreck just trying to guard all the entrances. You’d get discouraged when you failed to keep out all the dust and filth that blows in. You’d get weary by running from room to room, sweeping and polishing, trying to make things look good.


Every Christian ought to rejoice in this fact: God is in you! And he is with you always, so who can be against you?

Friday, November 27, 2009

ENLARGEMENT OF HEART

The evangelists George Whitefield and John Wesley were two of the greatest preachers in history. These men preached to thousands in open meetings, on the streets, in parks and prisons, and through their ministries many were brought to Christ. But a doctrinal dispute arose between the two men over how a person is sanctified. Both doctrinal camps defended their positions strongly, and some vicious words were exchanged, with the followers of both men arguing in unseemly fashion.


A follower of Whitefield came to him one day and asked, “Will we see John Wesley in heaven?” He was asking, in effect, “How can Wesley be saved if he’s preaching such error?”


Whitefield answered, “No, we will not see John Wesley in heaven. He will be so high up near Christ’s throne, so close to the Lord, that we won’t be able to see him.”


Paul called this kind of spirit “enlargement of heart.” And he had it himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, a church in which some had accused him of hardness and who had sneered at his preaching. Paul assured them, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged” (2 Corinthians 6:11).


When God enlarges your heart, suddenly so many limits and barriers are removed! You don’t see through a narrow lens anymore. Instead, you find yourself being directed by the Holy Spirit to those who are hurting. And the hurting are drawn to your compassionate spirit by the Holy Ghost’s magnetic pull.


So, do you have a gentleness of heart when you see hurting people? When you see a brother or sister who has stumbled in sin or may be having problems, are you tempted to tell them what’s wrong in their lives? Paul says that hurting ones need to be restored in a spirit of meekness and gentleness. They need to encounter the spirit that Jesus demonstrated.


Here is the cry of my heart for my remaining days: “God, take away all narrowness from my heart. I want your spirit of compassion for those who are hurting…your spirit of forgiveness when I see someone who’s fallen…your spirit of restoration, to take away their reproach.


“Take away all exclusiveness from my heart, and enlarge my capacity to love my enemies. When I approach someone who’s in sin, let me not go in judgment. Instead, let the well of water springing up in me be a river of divine love for them. And let the love that’s shown to them kindle in them a love for others.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

GOD LOVES THE CHURCH

The true church of Jesus Christ is the apple of the Lord’s eye. Yet from the beginning, his church has experienced apostasies and false teachers. The earliest churches—those apostolic bodies founded by Paul and the apostles—had the full counsel of God taught to them. Nothing “profitable to growth and steadfastness” was withheld from Christ’s followers. They were given truth, not only in word but in demonstration and power of the Holy Ghost.


Paul warned Timothy that a time was coming when some of God’s people “will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lust shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables [so-called mystical truths]” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).


History records that this happened just as Paul had predicted. After the apostles died—and the generation that sat under their teaching had passed away—a conspiracy of wicked error flooded the church. Believers were seduced by strange doctrines, and science and philosophy eroded the truth of Christ’s gospel.


Consider what Paul said of the purity of Christ’s church: “Christ…loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle…but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).


God’s great concern is not about the apostate church. Even apostasies will not be able to kill or destroy the church of Jesus Christ. In spite of these problems, God has everything under control, and his mystical, invisible, overcoming church is not dying. Rather, the river of the Holy Spirit is flowing into the “dead sea” of apostate churches, exposing iniquity and lukewarmness. And it’s causing new life to spring up.


Those who are turned from the dead, lifeless churches may be but just a remnant. Nevertheless, Jesus declared: “The fields are ripe for harvest. And there is still time for laborers to go forth.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Holy Spirit has fled the scene, leaving behind a withered harvest. God’s Spirit is still at work, convicting, wooing and drawing the lost to Christ, including those in apostasy.


The cloud of heavenly witnesses would tell us not to look for judgment, not to focus on “holding the fort.” It is still the day of the Holy Spirit, who is waiting to fill every willing vessel.


God still loves his church, blemishes and all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

BE READY

In Matthew 24 Jesus uses a parable to teach about being ready for his return: “Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, who his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.


“But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:44-51).


Note that Jesus is speaking about servants here, meaning believers. One servant is called faithful and the other evil. What makes the latter evil in God’s eyes? According to Jesus, it’s something he “shall say in his heart” (24:48). This servant doesn’t voice such a thought and he doesn’t preach it. But he thinks it. He has sold his heart on the demonic lie, “The Lord delays his coming.” Notice he doesn’t say, “The Lord isn’t coming,” but “he delays his coming.” In other words, “Jesus won’t come suddenly or unexpectedly. He won’t return in my generation.”


This “evil servant” is clearly a type of believer, perhaps even one in ministry. He was commanded to “watch” and “be ready,” “for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:44). Yet this man eases his conscience by accepting Satan’s lie.


Jesus shows us the fruit of this kind of thinking. If a servant is convinced that the Lord has delayed his coming, then he sees no need for right living. He isn’t compelled to make peace with his fellow servants. He doesn’t see the need to preserve unity in his home, at work, in church. He could smite his fellow servants, accuse them, hold grudges, destroy their reputations. As Peter says, this servant is driven by his lusts. He wants to live in two worlds, indulging in evil living while believing he’s safe from righteous judgment.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

THE LIES OF THE ENEMY

In our times of trial and temptation, Satan comes to us bringing lies: “You’re surrounded now and there is no way out. Greater servants than you have quit in circumstances no worse than this. Now it’s your turn to go down. You’re a failure, otherwise you wouldn’t be going through this. There’s something wrong with you and God is sorely displeased.”


In the midst of his trial, Hezekiah acknowledged his helplessness. The king realized he had no strength to stop the voices raging at him, voices of discouragement, threats and lies. He knew he couldn’t deliver himself from the battle, so he sought the Lord for help. And God answered by sending the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah with this message: “The Lord has heard your cry. Now, tell the Satan at your gate, ‘You’re the one who is going down. By the way you came here, you will also go out.’”


Hezekiah had very nearly fallen for the enemy’s trick. The fact is, if we don’t stand up to Satan’s lies—if, in our hour of crisis, we don’t turn to faith and prayer, if we don’t draw strength from God’s promises of deliverance—the devil will zero in on our wavering faith and intensify his attacks.


Hezekiah gained courage from the word he received, and he was able to say to Sennacherib in no uncertain terms: “Devil king, you did not blaspheme me. You lied to God himself. My Lord is going to deliver me. And because you blasphemed him, you will face his wrath!”


The Bible tells us that God supernaturally delivered Hezekiah and Judah on that very night: “It came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (2 Kings 19:35).


Believers today stand not just on a promise but also on the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And in that blood we have victory over every sin, temptation and battle we will ever face. Maybe you’ve received a letter from the devil lately. I ask you: Do you believe God has the foreknowledge to anticipate your every trial? Your every foolish move? Your every doubt and fear? If so, you have the example of David before you, who prayed, “This poor man cried, and the Lord delivered him.” Will you do the same?

Monday, November 23, 2009

PEACE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

On whom does Jesus bestow his peace? You may think, “I’m not worthy of living in Christ’s peace. I have too many struggles in my life. My faith is so weak.”

You would do well to consider the men to whom Jesus first gave his peace. None of them was worthy, and none had a right to it.

Think about Peter. Jesus was about to bestow his peace on a minister of the gospel who would soon be spewing out cursings. Peter was zealous in his love for Christ, but he was also going to deny him.

Then there was James and his brother John, men with a competitive spirit, always seeking to be recognized. They asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when he ascended to his throne in glory.

The other disciples were no more righteous. They simmered with anger at James and John for trying to upstage them. There was Thomas, a man of God who was given to doubt. All of the disciples were so lacking in faith, it amazed and stressed Jesus. Indeed, in Christ’s most troubling hour, they would all forsake him and flee. Even after the Resurrection, when the word spread that “Jesus is risen,” the disciples were slow to believe.

But there’s even more. These were also confused men. They did not understand the ways of the Lord. His parables confused them. After the Crucifixion, they lost any sense of unity they had, scattering in all directions.

What a picture: These men were full of fear, unbelief, disunity, sorrow, confusion, competitiveness, pride. Yet it was to these same troubled servants that Jesus said, “I am going to give you my peace.”

The disciples weren’t chosen because they were good or righteous; that much is clear. Nor was it because they had talent or abilities. They were fishermen and day laborers, meek and lowly. Christ called and chose the disciples because he saw something in their hearts. As he looked into them, he knew each one would submit to the Holy Spirit. At this point, all that the disciples had was a promise from Christ of his peace. The fullness of that peace was yet to be given to them, at Pentecost. That’s when the Holy Spirit would come and dwell in them. We receive the peace of Christ from the Holy Spirit. This peace comes to us as the Spirit reveals Christ to us. The more of Jesus you want, the more the Spirit will show you of him—and the more of Christ’s actual peace you will have.

Friday, November 20, 2009

GOD’S GREAT CONCERN

In the midst of this worldwide “shaking of all things,” what is God’s great concern in all of this? Is it on the events of the Middle East? No. The Bible tells us God’s vision is trained on his children: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).


Our Lord is aware of every move on the earth, by every living thing. And yet his gaze is focused primarily on the well-being of his children. He fixes his eyes on the pains and needs of each member of his spiritual body. Simply put, whatever hurts us concerns him.


To prove this to us, Jesus said, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Even in the midst of great world wars, God’s primary focus isn’t on the tyrants. His focus is on every circumstance in his children’s lives.


Christ says in the very next verse: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matthew 10:29). In Christ’s day, sparrows were the meat of the poor and sold two for a penny. Yet, Jesus said, “Not one of these small creatures falls to the ground without your Father knowing it.”

Jesus’ use of the word “fall” in this verse signifies more than the bird’s death. The Aramaic meaning is “to light upon the ground.” In other words, “fall” here indicates every little hop a tiny bird makes.


Christ is telling us, “Your Father’s eye is on the sparrow not just when it dies but even when it lights on the ground. As a sparrow learns to fly, it falls from the nest and begins to hop along the ground. And God sees every little struggle it has. He’s concerned over every detail of its life.”


Jesus then adds, “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (10:31). Indeed, he says, “The very hairs of your head are numbered” (10:30). Simply put, the One who made and counted all the stars—who monitored every action of the Roman Empire, who keeps the galaxies in their orbits—has his eye fixed on you. And, Jesus asks, “Are you not worth much more to him?”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

AMAZING PEACE!

Jesus gives us more than one reason why we need his peace. Christ said to his disciples in John 14:30, “The prince of this world cometh.” What was the context of his statement? He had just told the twelve, “Hereafter I will not talk much with you” (14:30). Then he explained why: “For the prince of this world cometh.”


Jesus knew Satan was at work in that very hour. The devil had already enlisted Judas to betray him. And Christ knew that the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem was being empowered by the principalities of hell. He was also aware that a devil-inspired mob was coming shortly to take him prisoner. That’s when Jesus said to the disciples, “Satan, the wicked one, is coming. So, I won’t be talking to you much more.”


Jesus knew he needed time with the Father to prepare for the coming conflict. He was about to be delivered into evil men’s hands, just as he had spoken. And he knew that Satan was doing all he could to shake his peace. The devil would harass and attempt to discourage him, all in an effort to break Christ’s faith in the Father—anything to get him to avoid the Cross.


You may be in turmoil, thinking, “It’s over. I’m not going to make it.” But Jesus says “I know what you’re going through. Come and drink of my peace.”


Right now you may be going through the hardest time you’ve ever faced. Your life may be unsettled and things may look hopeless. There seems to be no way out for you and every avenue you turn to fills you with more stress, confusion and weariness.


It doesn’t matter what you’re going through. Your life may look like it was struck by a tornado. You may endure trials that cause others to look at you as a modern-day Job. But in the midst of your troubles, when you call on the Holy Spirit to baptize you in the peace of Christ, he will do it.


People will point to you and say, “That person’s world has come completely apart. Yet he’s determined to trust God’s Word, live or die. How can he do it? How does he go on? He should have quit long ago. Yet he hasn’t given up. And through it all, he hasn’t compromised anything he believes. What amazing peace! It’s beyond understanding.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A CLOUD OF WITNESSES

Hebrews 12:1 tells us that the world is encircled by a cloud of witnesses who are with Christ in glory. What does this multitude of heavenly witnesses have to say to the present world? We live in a generation that is far more wicked than Noah’s. What can these witnesses say to a human race whose sins exceed even that of Sodom?


Our day is one of great prosperity. Our economy has been blessed, yet our society has become so immoral, violent and anti-God that even secularists bemoan how far we have fallen. Christians everywhere wonder why God has delayed his judgments on such a wicked society.


We who love Christ may not understand why such gross evil is allowed to continue. But the cloud of heavenly witnesses understands. They don’t question the mercy and patience that God has shown.


The Apostle Paul is among that cloud of witnesses, and he bears witness to God’s unlimited love for even “the chiefest of sinners.” Paul’s life and writings tell us that he cursed the name of Christ. He was a terrorist, hunting down God’s people and dragging them off to be jailed or killed. Paul would say to us that God is being patient with this present generation because there are many who are like he was, people who sin in ignorance.


The apostle Peter is also among the cloud of witnesses, and he too understands why God is so patient. Peter’s life and writings remind us that he cursed Jesus, swearing he never knew him. God withholds his judgment because there are multitudes still who curse and deny him, just as Peter did. The Lord won’t give up on them, just as he never gave up on Peter. There are many like him whom Christ still prays for.


As I consider this cloud of witnesses, I see the faces of former drug addicts and alcoholics, former prostitutes and homosexuals, former gangsters and pushers, former murders and wife-beaters, former infidels and pornography addicts—multitudes whom society had given up on. They all repented and died in the arms of Jesus, and now they are witnesses to the mercy and patience of a loving Father.


I believe all of these would say, in one unified witness, that Jesus didn’t judge them before they received his mercy. God still loves this mad, immoral world. May he help us to love the lost as he does. And may we pray to have the love and patience he is showing the world right now.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES

The prophet Isaiah describes what happens when the Holy Spirit falls upon a people. Isaiah prophesies, “The spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest” (Isaiah 32:15).


Isaiah is saying, “When the Holy Ghost comes, what was once a barren wilderness becomes a harvest field. A dead patch of ground suddenly overflows with fruit. And this is no temporary harvest. The field of fruit will grow into a forest. And you’ll be able to take cuttings from this forest year after year, and build on your fruitfulness continually.”


Isaiah adds, “Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field” (32:16). According to the prophet, the Holy Ghost also brings with him a message of judgment against sin. And that message produces righteousness in the people.


Isaiah isn’t speaking of a one-time outpouring of the Spirit, what some people think of as “revival.” Isaiah is describing something that lasts. Studies by Christian sociologists show that most present-day revivals last for an average of five years, and leave in their wake much confusion and dissension. I know of some churches where so-called revivals took place, but now, within just a few years, there is no trace of the Spirit left. Those churches are dead, dry, empty. Houses that once held 1,000 are now cavernous tombs, with only fifty people in attendance.


Isaiah continues: “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isaiah 32:17-18).


Peace comes because righteousness is at work. The Holy Spirit is busy sweeping out all unrest, disturbances and condemnation. What follows is peace of mind, peace in the home, and peace in God’s house. And when God’s people have the peace of Christ, they aren’t easily moved from it: “When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place. Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass” (32:19-20).


Isaiah’s prophecy about the Holy Spirit was directed to Israel during Uzziah’s reign. Yet it also applies to God’s people today. It is known as a dual prophecy. The fact is, every generation needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And I believe the church today hasn’t seen anything compared to what the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish.

Monday, November 16, 2009

THE HEATHENISM OF WORRY

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek)” (Matthew 6:31-32).


Jesus tells us that worry—about the future of our family, about jobs, about how we are to survive—is a heathen’s way of life. Jesus is talking here about those who have no heavenly Father. They do not know God as he wants to be known, as a caring, providing, loving Father in heaven.


“Take no thought for tomorrow” (v. 34). In these plain words, Jesus commands us, “Do not give a thought, do not give a worry, about what might or might not happen tomorrow. You can’t change anything. And you can’t help by worrying. When you do, you’re only doing as the heathen do.” Then Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (v. 33). In other words, you are to go on loving Jesus. You are to move on, casting all your cares on him. You are to go on resting in his faithfulness. Your heavenly Father will see to it that you are supplied with all the essential things of life.


I wonder if the angels are baffled by all the worrying and anxiousness of those who claim to trust in God. To them it must seem so degrading, so insulting to the Lord, that we worry as if we had no caring Father in heaven. What perplexing questions the angels must ask among themselves: “Have they no Father who is in heaven? Do they not believe he loves them? Did he not tell them he knows all about their needs? Do they not believe that he who feeds the birds and the whole animal kingdom will feed and clothe them? How can they fret and worry if they know he owns all power, all wealth, and can supply the needs of all creation? Would they accuse their heavenly Father of neglect, as if he was not true to his word?”


You have a heavenly Father. Trust him!

Friday, November 13, 2009

THE MINISTRY OF REFRESHING

In Acts 27, Paul was on a ship headed for Rome when the vessel came to a stop at Sidon. Paul asked the centurion in charge for permission to visit some friends in the city, and “Julius…gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself” (Acts 27:3). Here is yet another instance of God using believers to refresh other believers.


We see this also in 2 Timothy, where Paul writes of a certain believer:


“The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me…. And in how many things he ministered unto me” (2 Timothy 1:16-18).


Onesiphorus was one of Paul’s spiritual sons and he loved Paul so deeply and unconditionally that he sought him out in his sufferings. Once, when Paul was jailed, Onesiphorus went through the city looking for him until he found him. His motivation was simply, “My brother is hurting. He has suffered the terrors of shipwreck, and now he’s being buffeted by Satan. I have to encourage him.”


The ministry of refreshing clearly includes seeking out those who are hurting. We hear a lot of talk about power in the church these days: power to heal the sick, power to win the lost, power to overcome sin. But I say there is great, healing power that flows out of a refreshed and renewed person. Depression, mental anguish or a troubled spirit can cause all kinds of physical sickness, but a spirit that’s refreshed and encouraged—one that’s made to feel accepted, loved and needed—is the healing balm needed most.


We find this ministry of refreshing in the Old Testament as well. When David was being hunted down by King Saul, he was exhausted and hurting, forced to run day and night. During that time, he felt rejected by God’s leaders and God’s people. Then, at a crucial moment, David’s friend Jonathan came to him: “Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David…and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee” (1 Samuel 23:16-17).


That was all David needed to hear and immediately his spirit was refreshed to go on. We see this example time after time in Scripture: God sends not an angel or a vision, but a fellow believer to refresh his beloved ones.